Photo: Scarlet Page / Courtesy of Chummy Press

Before ‘The Man Who’ Travis Just Wanted to Rock

Just before CDs were about to get louder and louder still, Travis showed us just how softly they could record on a few of Good Feeling‘s best tracks.

Good Feeling
Craft Recordings
2 April 2021

Travis were the opening act for Oasis in the spring of 2000, and they were loud. They were also a great deal more animated live act than the main attraction. Lead guitarist Andy Dunlop flopped around on his side of the stage, making his guitar crunch and squall. Everything drummer Neil Primrose struck on his kit was amplified by the old, boomy theater. Lead singer Fran Healy, for his part, wasn’t going to great lengths to restrain his voice. How else could he keep up with all the noise? I mention this because Travis’ live sound didn’t seem to square with what they captured in the studio the previous year. When I finally heard the platinum-selling album The Man Who for the first time, it sounded too relaxed and quiet to be the same band. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Scottish pop band still had a bash ‘n’ rock aesthetic in their system leftover from their 1997 debut album, Good Feeling.

In 1997, Britpop, as a competition, was winding down. Blur had traded their Kinksian Britishness for a sound inspired by Graham Coxon’s fascination with American indie. Oasis were going for the big slam dunk with Be Here Now, but fans on both sides of the Atlantic were wondering if the band had bitten off more than they could chew. Radiohead proved that they could achieve international acclaim without competing in the first place. The Boo Radleys, Suede, and Supergrass continued their stabs for glory despite the fervor having left the presses.

It was around this time that a young band from Glasgow somehow snagged the attention of legendary producer Steve Lillywhite and recorded their first album with him in Woodstock, New York. Good Feeling went on to be a top 10 seller in the United Kingdom. Close to 24 years later, it’s being re-released on vinyl with the original artwork. What’s changed? Nothing. There were no extra tracks, no remixing job that reveals any hidden avenues, just the album as it was back in 1997. Audiophiles, be aware; this is a 49-minute album on one piece of vinyl. If you are particular about the last song of each side being too close to the center, that may be an issue here.

Much of Good Feeling sounds like the product of a band that still believed that there was a Britpop race to be run, particularly in its first four singles: “All I Want to Do Is Rock”, “U16 Girls”, “Tied to the ’90s”, and “Happy”. “U16 Girls” brings the Stones’ swagger, “Happy” brings the Kinks’ sun, and “Tied to the ’90s” sounds like Lillywhite ask the band one day “Okay, lads! Let’s hear your best ape of McCartney!” With the bouncy chords, the over-enunciation of the “T” consonant, and the alternating fourth-beat shouts of “Hey!,” it’s tough to tell if they’re satirizing or paying homage to the decade in which they were recording: “We’re tired of the ’90s / But we’re tied to the ’90s.” These singles, alongside album tracks like “Midsummer Night’s Dreamin'”, “Good Day to Die”, and “The Line Is Fine” would all sound out of place on every other Travis album. If anything is surprising or astonishing about Good Feeling, it’s just how fast, and thoroughly the band would abandon this relatively raucous sound once the album’s life cycle was through.

It was Good Feeling‘s fifth and final single that would point listener’s towards the band’s future. “More Than Us” is credited as Travis’s “breakthrough” on the record’s sticker, though it certainly doesn’t sound like it. It’s downtempo, soft, mellow, and not especially catchy. Yet it cracked UK’s top 20, proving that Travis could provide just what British listeners must have been looking for following the Britpop frenzy. I never got to hear “More Than Us” at the time, though. By 1997, American Midwest radio format could only provide one with Sugar Ray, Marcy Playground, or Matchbox 20.

Another track that foreshadows Travis’ preference for the softer side of things was “Falling Down”, a track that Lillywhite recalls fondly in a Zoom interview with the band. Bassist Doug Payne turned to the piano for this one and laid down the sleepy foundation for Healy to take a stab at crooning. It also gives the listener some honest-to-god dynamics that have been peeling away from the pop/rock aesthetic down through the decades. Every time Healy singers “And I get a kick out of you” or “And I’m feeling sick how ’bout you” (it’s the same melodic figure), Payne cuts the piano chord short and lets the silence hang there for a second as Healy sings his quietest. Just before CDs were about to get louder and louder still, Travis was doling out a rare treat in showing us just how softly they could record.

Good Feeling closes out with “Funny Thing”, a slow yet loud number that paints its picture with sky-wide sheets of electric guitar noise while Fran Healy does his best Pablo Honey-era Thom Yorke wail. Good Feeling remains a good debut from a very good band, but its new lease on life through vinyl doesn’t bring about any special revelations. If you liked it 24 years ago, you’ll probably like it now. This is an album that just doesn’t stand out in the overall picture of ’90s Britpop. But in the Travis discography, it most certainly does. After all, this was the time when all they wanted to do was rock.

RATING 7 / 10